Sunday, July 27, 2008

Genre #6: Fiction, Fantasy, and Young Adult - THE SPIDERWICK CHRONICLES, BOOK 1

Bibliographic Data:

DiTerlizzi, Tony and Holly Black. 2003. The Spiderwick Chronicles, Book 1: The Field Guide. New York: Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers. ISBN 0689859368

Plot Summary:

After moving into an old Victorian home, three siblings – Jared, Simon, and Mallory Grace – start hearing and seeing strange things in the rooms and in the walls. While they initially brush it off as animals, they eventually discover a hidden room and the book “Arthur Spiderwick’s Field Guide to the Fantastical World Around You” which is full of details about faeries. As the book continues, more and more strange things begin happening around the house. While everyone wants to blame the kids, especially Jared, he is the one who recognizes that these strange things are not occurring by human hands. This first book in the series ends with the three siblings thinking more about the book and the implications of its contents.

Critical Analysis:

This book captures the reader’s attention by centering the faerie adventures in the lives of three siblings. Jared, Simon, and Mallory connect with readers of all walks of life, especially kids. The story opens up with discussion of what they might be when they grow up, thus helping the reader develop an interest in the lives of the characters and what happens to them.

Additionally, the plot is credible from the beginning, as the story begins with the simple idea of a family moving into a creaky, old house. This simple move, however, turns out to be more complicated as the plot develops. With small details such as hearing animals in the wall or discovering strange poems in a room reached by the old dumbwaiter chute, the plot advances and moves into the magical realm of strange creatures and faeries.

The authors did a great job establishing the setting of the old Victorian home as the characters echo the descriptions of its poor state. From Mallory’s observation that “it’s a shack” (p. 2) to the detailed description of “doors…worn with age” (p. 4), the reader gets the sense that the foreboding old house into which the family is moving will be an important part of the plot.

As this is just the first book in The Spiderwick Chronicles series, the theme is just beginning to be established. However, with the siblings’ adventures through the house and the discovery of the old book full of ideas and details about faeries, readers can appreciate the way in which each generation can learn something from those who have gone before them. It is worth continuing to read this series, however, to see how exactly the Grace siblings continue their adventures with Arthur Spiderwick’s history as their guide.

Lastly, the authors have an engaging style that keeps the reader in the story and in the details surrounding the Grace siblings. With beautiful black and white sketches that mirror the descriptive language of the text, the book is vivid in its storytelling and fosters the reader’s interest in learning more and more about the little magical characters that emerge throughout the story.

Review excerpts:

Kirkus Reviews – “…these have just the right amount of menace laced with appealing humor … crisp pacing and …enticingly Gothic illustrations.”

VOYA – “The real magic of this series, however, is in the illustrations…nearly every second page is embellished with the ink drawings of DiTerlizzi, evoking a delicious classical sense in this modern fantasy.”

Publishers Weekly – “Appealing characters, well-measured suspense and an inviting package…”

Personal Reaction:

This was an interesting and fun read, as the characters were easy to get to know. The combination of reality with fantasy and magic was interesting, as it made me want to know more. The authors did a good job avoiding childish pursuits of faeries, instead weaving a story that is credible and engaging for readers of all ages.



· Brainstorm ways in which you and your friends would try to prove that magical creatures are in your home.

· Write a letter to Jared, Simon, or Mallory telling them how you feel about their adventures in their new home.

· Look at one of the sketches in the book and create a new story for it.

· Watch the movie The Spiderwick Chronicles and hold a discussion to decide which was better – the book or the movie.

Related Readings

Other books in the series
The Spiderwick Chronicles, Book 2: The Seeing Stone

The Spiderwick Chronicles, Book 3: Lucinda’s Secret

The Spiderwick Chronicles, Book 4: The Ironwood Tree

The Spiderwick Chronicles, Book 5: The Wrath of Mulgrath

Other series
The Dark is Rising series by Susan Cooper

Septimus Heap series by Angie Sage

The Edge Chronicles series by Paul Stewart

A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket

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